Dallas advocates hope to raise HIV awareness
To bring special attention to the alarming spread of HIV/AIDS in the African-American community, Dallas advocates will host education and awareness events for the public throughout the week.
The message of the seventh annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, officially recognized on Wednesday, Feb. 7, encourages folks to “Get Educated! Get Tested! Get Involved! Get Treated!”
With an emphasis on action, those working on HIV/AIDS issues say they hope to create a dialogue both within the African-American community and between local communities to address the crisis.
“A day chosen to recognize the devastation of HIV/AIDS will hopefully help us to reflect upon what this disease has done to our communities and encourage us to do more,” said Sheryldine Samuel-Fall, the HIV/AIDS Nutrition and Education Program manager for the Resource Center of Dallas.
On Wednesday, Feb. 7, Dr. Nicholaos Bellos will offer free, anonymous HIV testing using the rapid oral test. He will also present a free educational lecture at his office at 6:30 p.m. The Nelson-Tebedo clinic on Cedar Springs Road and the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services also offer testing on a regular basis.
Bellos said that rates of HIV/AIDS in both the young people’s community and the African-American community are on the rise locally. Young people constitute 13 to 19 percent of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses, while African-Americans make up 40 to 45 percent of new cases, he said.
“Obviously, the Nancy Reagan-type, “‘Just Say No’ thing doesn’t work,” said Bellos. “It clearly didn’t work with drug abuse, and it’s clearly not going to work with human sexuality as well.”
Instead, Bellos thinks that there needs to be more testing and more education available about risk reduction. He also discussed some of the reasons he thinks HIV/AIDS has become so prevalent in the African-American community reasons such as men having sex with men on the down low.
“I know there’s no real causality there, ” he said, “but I can tell you from my practice, I’ve seen African-American men come in with their wives and the men are HIV-positive, and then when you get the men alone and talking without their wives present, they have had sex with men prior to their diagnosis.”
Also, the disproportionate amount of African-American men in prison has contributed enormously to the spread of the sexually transmitted disease, he said. According to the online HIV/AIDS resource TheBody.com, only two state prison systems, Vermont and Mississippi, and some cities make condoms available for inmates.
“All the others do not because sex is “‘forbidden’ within the prison system, but if you look at the incidence of HIV in the prison system and people getting out of prison, the rates are extraordinarily high,” said Bellos. “The problem is, the people get tested going in, but they don’t get tested going out, which is an issue. And honestly, part of that might be some “‘head in the sand’ [attitude] on the part of prison officials. Because if somebody is coming in and they’re HIV-negative, and then they’re going out and they’re HIV-positive well, who’s liable?”
Texas does not give out condoms to inmantes, he said.
“We’re not giving out condoms, so we’re not condoning the use of protection that might actually lower those rates,” Bellos said.
Getting African-American churches on board to support testing and HIV-positive people in need of services would make a huge difference in starting a dialogue within the community, said Bellos. Samuel-Fall, with the Resource Center, hopes that a luncheon they are co-hosting with AIDS Arms will foster a discussion of issues between communities.
The luncheon will take place Thursday, Feb. 8 at 11:30 p.m. Dr. Debbie Hagins, M.D, will speak on the state of “AIDS in Black America.”
Free parking is available at the Top of the Cliff Club, 400 S. Zang and 12th Street in Oak Cliff, and a bus line serves the area.
“It is important for HIV-positive and -negative individuals of all races, ethnicities and ages to come out to this event to gather information that will allow them to serve as advocates, educate themselves and their communities,” Samuel-Fall said.
Kirk Meyers is CEO of Abounding Prosperity, an HIV/AIDS service organization specifically designed for African-American men. He said he hopes that the African-American community can confront their denial of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
He also said that the feedback he gets while distributing condoms in clubs lets him know he’s making a difference.
“African-American men’s fear, denial and apathy, mixed with the homophobia of the overall African-American community, has caused inaction,” Meyers said. “I think in the African-American community, the spread of HIV will be halted only by African-American gay men working with the overall African-American community.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 2, 2007